By Sid Perkins, Science News
IGUASSU FALLS, Brazil—As of 2008, more than 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest had been cleared for agriculture and other development. But in Brazil the rate of deforestation has dropped dramatically in recent years, thanks to a variety of incentives that may provide a model for other regions.
Recent studies have identified several factors driving deforestation worldwide, reported Ruth S. DeFries, a geographer at Columbia University, on August 9. For the period from 2000 to 2005, two of the main causes were urban population growth and the expansion of large-scale agriculture. Ironically, she noted, population growth in rural areas, where almost all of the world’s remaining forests are located, is relatively stable and doesn’t seem to drive deforestation.
Despite deforestation in many regions, large areas of forest remain untouched worldwide, DeFries noted. And fortunately, she said, half of that virgin forest sits in nations such as Peru, Suriname, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where agricultural pressure is relatively low.
Policies such as those implemented in Brazil in recent years can help preserve those forests, DeFries suggested. Besides stepping up enforcement of the strict laws regarding deforestation in the nation, Brazil has reduced the availability of bank loans to large agricultural producers, boosted incentives to increase agricultural production on lands already cleared and increased public awareness campaigns about deforestation. The result: Deforestation losses in the nation dropped from 28,000 square kilometers in 2004 to about 7,500 square kilometers in 2009, a decrease of almost 74 percent.
Brazil’s ambitious goal is to reduce the deforestation rate in 2015 to 80 percent of that seen in 2005, said DeFries.
The decrease in deforestation is truly welcome, said Paulo Artaxo, a professor of environmental physics at the University of Sao Paulo. “At rates of land clearing seen before recent years, 40 percent of the Amazon could have been deforested by 2050.”